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Fresh off the press: Printmaker returns to be a part of 2012 Triennial

Make It Rain II, 2011, UV cured silkscreen and acrylic silkscreen varnish on paper, is one of the prints by Regina-based artist Robert Truszkowski, who returns to the Vernon Public Art Gallery resulting from his solo exhibition award at the 2009 Okanagan Print Triennial.  - Photo submitted
Make It Rain II, 2011, UV cured silkscreen and acrylic silkscreen varnish on paper, is one of the prints by Regina-based artist Robert Truszkowski, who returns to the Vernon Public Art Gallery resulting from his solo exhibition award at the 2009 Okanagan Print Triennial.
— image credit: Photo submitted

The ink is still damp as Robert Truszkowski takes the print fresh off the press and holds it under an ultra violet light.

The ink quickly dries in the process and the resulting high-definition image is what Truszkowski describes as a happy accident.

Both digital and analog methods are working together to create something that is methodical in its stages of creation, but results in something completely unexpected.

Think of titular character Forrest Gump coveting his box of chocolates. Like life, in screen printing you never know what you are going to get until you take that final piece of paper off the press.

It’s that process that still fascinates Truszkowski, a Regina-based artist and associate professor of visual art, who returns to the Okanagan this week to show his latest prints as part of the 2012 Okanagan Print Triennial (OPT) at the Vernon Public Art Gallery.

“I am still loving the happy accident, but I guide it a bit also in the physical application and of what techniques are at my disposal. I like the balance of the creative spirit and the mess that can result,” said Truszkowski, who when not creating art, or teaching it to students as an associate professor at the University of Regina, spends most of his time with his family, consisting of two children, with one on the way.

Truszkowski, 34, has been even busier as of late, preparing the 15 prints that will be part of his solo exhibition, entitled Penance, opening at the VPAG this Thursday.

Truszkowski has spent the past two-and-a-half years working on the resulting prints since winning the solo exhibition award at the inaugural OPT in 2009.

Launched as a collaborative effort between the Vernon and Kelowna art galleries and the creative studies department at UBC Okanagan, that first OPT welcomed print artists from all over Canada to submit their works to a jury.

However, as news of the OPT was sent out through artist  circles across the nation, Truszkowski says it almost slipped under his radar.

“A friend of a friend mentioned it in passing to me while I was in a pub in Toronto. Later, I caught wind of it and Googled it. I knew of (OPT co-founder) Briar Craig. He was also a Queen’s (University) guy, and was part of the printmaking lore there, so when I saw this, I thought it sounded like a fantastic opportunity.”

As the jurors may have sensed at that first OPT, Truszkowski’s art process is best described as laborious.

He uses digital applications –– images and illustrations scanned on software –– that are transferred using more traditional screen printing methods. He still squeegees the ink by hand with the screens clamped on a table. And then there’s the newer method of using the fast drying UV light to “cure” the prints, resulting in a high density gloss that makes them pop.

“I use a lot of digital separations, and I use paint and spray bottles to jam them all together... There are usually 60 to 70 layers on top by the end,” he explained.

Originally from Hamilton, Truszkowski graduated from the bachelor of fine arts program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and received his masters at Concordia in Montreal. He credits his former professor and mentor at Queen’s, Otis Tamasauskas, for instilling in him a love of printmaking, and also for his becoming a professor himself.

“I even named my son after him,” laughed Truszkowski. “I always liked to draw and paint, but I didn’t think of it as a career until I went to university. My thing was why go for something I didn’t like.”

It was towards his third year of undergraduate studies that he was introduced to printmaking. Although he had conflicting responses from his instructors on how to proceed –– one of his instructors was more meticulous and methodical, not believing in chance, Truszkowski decided to also take Tamasauskas’ advice, and just go with the flow –– of ink, so to speak.

“It was a fantastic balance to not only let it happen, but guide it a bit too,” he said.  “Every day I went back to the studio, working all night hammering it out until I had a well crafted print... I was so enthusiastic, and drunken by the possibilities in learning to do something that results in a happy surprise.”

Truszkowski has been able to practise what he preaches to his students, and credits the OPT, and its co-founders Craig, also a recognized printmaker and associate professor at UBC Okanagan, and VPAG curator Lubos Culen, in helping him find a broader audience for his work. His winning achievement has resulted in not only exhibiting opportunities, but has put his name in contention with some of the leading printmakers in the country.

“It was an accidental relationship that I made with Briar and Lubos that has been a key to my life and career,” he said. “Everything since has been manifested from that experience.”

And that includes the possibility of applying to the next OPT when it opens to international artists and returns to the Vernon art gallery in 2015.

“It’s on my radar along with other opportunities,” he said. “I have plenty to keep me busy.”

The public can meet Truszkowski and see his work at the opening reception and artist talk for Penance at the VPAG Thursday, March 29 starting at 6 p.m. The gallery is also offering a tour of the exhibition that includes a return trip to Kelowna to see the 2012 OPT at the Kelowna Art Gallery, Saturday, March 31. Contact the VPAG at 250-545-3173 for details.

 

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